What allows The New Pornographers' records to reach the pinnacle of power-pop greatness isn't their instantly ingratiating catchiness or the cleverness of their wordplay, though the group does both better than any band this side of Fountains Of Wayne. The secret lies in the subtleties, the shifts in mood and tone that burrow under the skin, transforming lighthearted pop trifles into unlikely masterpieces. Mass Romantic's "Letter From An Occupant" isn't just a windows-down, full-blast summer anthem; it's five catchy songs in one, smashed together just right to facilitate maximum momentum.
As The New Pornographers' primary songwriting genius—he also led the similarly unimpeachable but comparatively unheralded Zumpano—A.C. Newman knows the importance of pop's subtleties more than most. Toning down the hooky relentlessness of his main band, Newman lets his new The Slow Wonder wind through a lot of mid-tempo territory, maintaining a breezy feel versatile enough to accommodate the brooding melancholy of "Come Crash" and the marvelously jack-hammering chorus of "On The Table." In between those extremes lies a uniformly appealing summertime sleeper that mostly eschews wall-of-sound blowouts for a sound just as rich and rewarding.
As for Fancey, the solo debut of New Pornographers guitarist Todd Fancey, the album arrives just in time to demand comparison to The Slow Wonder: With similarly low-key (albeit trippier and fuzzier) aims, and with virtually identical 33-minute run times, the two side projects fit together reasonably well. But Fancey's pleasant diversions could use Newman's impeccable craft and distinctive way with words to go with their sunny disposition. As it is, considering the two albums back to back just further illustrates the depth and breadth of Newman's genius.